What to do About Early Wake-Ups

Are you frustrated because your baby or toddler is consistently wide awake at 5:00 a.m.? In this article I share the causes of early rising as well as what to do to help your child sleep a little later in the morning.

“Normal” versus “Early” Rising

As a parent you may be getting up earlier than you’re used to. So, before I get too deep into this article, I want to clarify what I mean by “early rising” because for some of you reading this, anything before 9:00 a.m. qualifies as early!

A normal morning wake-up time for babies and toddlers is between 5:30 and 7:00 a.m. There are a few exceptions, but we tend to see most young children fall into this range. You may also notice that your baby or child wakes. up at roughly the same time each morning.Your child’s brain controls their wake-up time and it is hard to change this time.

Early rising means your baby or toddler wakes for the day before 5:30 a.m. Early rising is common because the drive to sleep is very low as morning approaches. Your little one is also more likely to be in a light stage of sleep. These two factors make it easier for them to wake up and simply stay awake, rather than return to sleep. The good news is, we can usually fix early rising.

Fixing Early Rising

Parents sometimes try to get their child to sleep later by pushing bedtime later. This tends to backfire because early rising is often caused by overtiredness. When young children are overtired, their bodies produce stress hormones. These stress hormones help them fight the fatigue but can also make it hard for them to stay asleep, especially during those early morning hours. Early rising is almost never caused by a too early bedtime.

So, what can you do to help your early riser sleep a little later? Try troubleshooting with these pro tips:

Move bedtime earlier

You’ll hear me say this a lot: Don’t fear an early bedtime! Most of your child’s deep sleep happens before midnight and this is what will keep them rested enough through that light, early morning sleep. Bedtime can be as early as 5:00 p.m. depending on your child’s mood and behavior, as well as how naps went that day. Watch your child in the late afternoon. Sometimes parents miss those early signs that their child is getting tired. These signs include slowing down, losing interest in toys or people, and become quieter. If your child is becoming hyper, cranky, clumsy or whiny before bedtime they are likely overtired. Check out my article on bedtimes for more tips.

Fix broken night sleep

Does your child wake up overnight? Do they need your help to get back to sleep? Fragmented sleep is a big cause of early rising. There are gentle and more direct methods available for teaching your child to fall asleep and return to sleep on their own, but the key is to be consistent with how you are responding to any night waking. If you need help selecting a method or getting started with teaching independent sleep, a Certified Child Sleep Consultant can help.

Don’t start the day before 6:00 a.m.

Early waking can become a habit because of how parents respond to it. I suggest that you treat anything before 6:00 a.m. as a night waking: Wait until at least 6:00 a.m. to greet your baby and turn the lights on. For older children a toddler clock can be helpful. Use a cheerful greeting, turn on the lights, and open the shades.

Make sure your child is napping well

Day and night sleep are connected. If your child often skips their nap or isn’t getting restorative naps during the day, they may be overtired by bedtime. This can cause early rising even if you put your child to bed early at night. If your child isn’t napping well due to circumstances beyond your control (i.e. daycare), get them to bed as early as possible on those days. Focus on good quality naps during the weekend. Read my blog post on biological nap schedules if you need more help getting your baby or child on a good nap schedule.

Make sure the room is DARK

The tiniest amounts of light can signal to your child’s brain that it’s time to be awake. Double check their room and patch up any slits where light may be coming through. If you absolutely must use a nightlight, it should be dim and warm-colored.

Block outside sounds with white noise

Early morning sounds like the neighborhood garbage truck or family members getting ready for school or work can be disruptive. A white noise machine in your child’s room can help drown out these sounds.

Be Patient

Early rising can take time to resolve itself, so be patient. You may need to try something for a week or more to see results. Regardless of what time your child wakes for the day, pay attention to how they act in the morning. Are they happy and ready to take on their day? They may be well-rested even though they wake earlier.

Key Take-Away: Early Rising Can Have Many Causes

Babies and young children are wired to wake between 5:30 and 7:00 a.m. Anything before 5:30 a.m. is considered early rising. The number one cause of early rising is overtiredness, but how parents respond can reinforce the behavior. Moving bedtime earlier can often fix the issue.

If you are struggling with early rising or other aspects of your child’s sleep, I can help! I offer a free 15-minute phone consult to discuss your family’s situation.

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